KLM 787 U-Turns Over Atlantic Due To Toilets

KLM 787 U-Turns Over Atlantic Due To Toilets

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Passengers on a transatlantic KLM flight yesterday had quite the journey to “nowhere,” and bathrooms are to blame. Man, this is a rough reason for a diversion.

Broken bathrooms cause KLM transatlantic diversion

This incident happened on Monday, February 12, 2024, and involves KLM flight KL601 from Amsterdam (AMS) to Los Angeles (LAX). The flight was operated by a four-year-old Boeing 787-10 with the registration code BH-BKF.

The 9:50AM flight ended up taking off from Schiphol Airport at 10:28AM, and began its intended 10+ hour journey across the Atlantic. However, things started to go wrong pretty quickly, and the issue apparently involved the toilets (more on that in a bit).

Around 70 minutes after takeoff, the crew made the decision to return to Amsterdam, and the aircraft began making a 180 degree turn… and then the crew backtracked, and the plane continued its journey.

The KLM 787 was going to return to Amsterdam

The plane kept flying toward North America for roughly two more hours. However, once the plane was over Greenland, the pilots decided for a second time to return to Amsterdam, and they followed through on the decision this time around. The plane ended up landing back in Amsterdam exactly 6.5 hours after it departed, at 3:58PM.

The KLM 787 actually returned to Amsterdam

So, what exactly went down here? Reportedly there were issues with the aircraft’s bathrooms. According to one passenger onboard, all nine of the aircraft’s bathrooms stopped working, and at that point the pilots decided to return to Amsterdam.

However, according to the same passenger, one bathroom then started working, so the crew decided to continue the journey.

But then for some reason, after flying an additional two hours, the decision was made to actually return to Amsterdam.

It’s anyone’s guess what exactly was going down in the cockpit and cabin, and exactly how many lavatories were out at a particular point.

This is a lose-lose situation

There’s nothing good about this situation, and I’m not sure the airline or crew could win either way here:

  • It’s simply not practical for up to 344 passengers to share one bathroom, if eight go out of service
  • At the same time, it absolutely sucks to waste so much time and so many resources over airplane lavatories, especially when you’re already a good distance to your destination

I think what’s probably most frustrating here is how the crew was going to return to Amsterdam just over an hour after takeoff, but made the decision to continue. If the flight had just returned then, the journey would have been just over two hours, rather than well over six hours. Beyond that, I imagine the journey was quite unpleasant on the return to Amsterdam, with just one bathroom. Of course as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

Some people may be asking if they couldn’t have just diverted to somewhere along the way to fix the issue. While that sounds logical, that also presents its own problems:

  • It’s possible the crew would have timed out (meaning they couldn’t complete the flight, per their contract), and then the plane and passengers would have been stuck at an airport that KLM potentially doesn’t even serve
  • It’s possible that the issue couldn’t have been fixed quickly, and then everyone would’ve had to be accommodated at a non-hub, which is all the more complicated

As inefficient as it seems, often the lesser of the evils is to have a plane return to the hub where you have sufficient staff, spare aircraft, and can make plans to easily accommodate everyone.

The cause of this KLM flight’s diversion

Bottom line

Passengers on yesterday’s KLM flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles didn’t exactly have the journey they were expecting, after nearly all the lavatories on the aircraft reportedly stopped working.

What makes this story wild is that the crew initially planned to turn around a bit over an hour after takeoff, and then backtracked, and continued its transatlantic crossing. Then a couple of hours later, the decision was finally made to return, leading to a 6.5 hour flight from Amsterdam to Amsterdam.

What do you make of this KLM diversion?

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  1. Michael Hardinger Guest

    I was waiting in LAX for that plane. A hevk of a hassle to get rebooked on a Delta ticket, via Atlanta...

  2. Felix Guest

    I was on the flight and I was the one that wrote the tweets. We were late taking off late because they were not able to get the plane to start. I counted three different complete systems restarts before they were able to clear all the faults as the captain stated when I asked him in the terminal after we landed at AMS. I been flying over 50 years and never been in a situation...

    I was on the flight and I was the one that wrote the tweets. We were late taking off late because they were not able to get the plane to start. I counted three different complete systems restarts before they were able to clear all the faults as the captain stated when I asked him in the terminal after we landed at AMS. I been flying over 50 years and never been in a situation where the plane did not start. Apparently in the restart, the system for the bathrooms went offline but according to the captain, he was unaware about it because all faults had been cleared. When we passed the UK is when they realized that we had no functioning toilets. That is when we started the first diversion. Shortly there after, the captain announces that one bathroom is online in the front and we will continue are flight. We were also told to please wait till the food service is complete before using the front bathroom. That is when I spoke with the chief purser to tell the captain that mathematically, it is impossible for all passengers to use one bathroom because it would take over 10 hours to cycle through (I thought 200 passengers were onboard, but later found out is was over 300) all the passengers (15 hours with 300 paxs). The delay because of the food service was reducing the available time and making the situation even worse. We were also told to drink less fluids so we would not have to use the bathroom, which becomes a major issue for older people who will get dehydrated and then becomes a medical emergency. When they finally open up the toilet, the lines become huge. I forgot the timing, but around this time they realized the issue and finally opened up the closed bathrooms for #1 and the front toilet for #2. I used a closed one after about 3 passengers had already used it and knew it would get gross right away. About this time is when we also diverted back to AMS for a second time, initially to Iceland at first and then it was decided to go to AMS. The staff were outstanding, never have I been in a situation where the passengers were extremely upset with the situation. The chief purser was a hero, he was able to convince the captain that one working toilet for a 10 hour flight was not going to work. The KLM staff at AMS had a plane and crew waiting when we arrived and we were back in the air in less that 2 hours. I waited for the captain to deplane and asked him what his thought process was. He stated in 34 years of flying, he never experienced an issue like this and there were no procedures. His comment was disheartening, in flight they are constantly calculating numerous data points with the plane, the number of working bathrooms required with over 300 souls is no different and is simply a mathematics problem.

  3. Canadian Platinum Guest

    Gives a new meaning to 'Bottom Line'.

  4. iamhere Guest

    Ewwww....one bathroom....and people generally do not keep in clean.

  5. David Guest

    "I keep being amazed that there are no protocols for this really simple type of cases…"

    It's called common sense. At some point someone simply needs to exercise a little of it.

  6. John G. Guest

    I keep being amazed that there are no protocols for this really simple type of cases… Like what is the min. number of functioning toilets per 100 passengers per hour!? Or the guy losing liters of blood on the recent LH A380 flight: If a customer is already spitting blood on the ground -i.e. has an obvious, serious medical issue- you should just f***ing offload him. Where has all common sense gone?

    1. UncleRonnie Member

      I'm sure money comes into it - diverting to another airport probably costs the airline a lot of money and maybe this is only chosen when there's a genuine medical emergency (or some douche starts throwing fists). Flying back to base is probably cheaper.

  7. Shangster11 Guest

    Perhaps after one toilet started working again, the crew may have hoped that they could follow the same procedure and got the other toilets to work. Either way, it's a shitty situation to be in. I'm pretty sure that the passengers are quite pissed off but maybe we should not crap all over the captain.

  8. Dan Guest

    I flew WestJet from the Caribbean to Toronto a few years ago and all the toilets died mid flight . Seems there was no service done at the Caribbean airport. More people used the toilet on the inbound flight than anticipated I presume. The only thing that I cannot understand is that the crew has access to a screen that displays the status of all the tanks. Before we left the crew knew that we...

    I flew WestJet from the Caribbean to Toronto a few years ago and all the toilets died mid flight . Seems there was no service done at the Caribbean airport. More people used the toilet on the inbound flight than anticipated I presume. The only thing that I cannot understand is that the crew has access to a screen that displays the status of all the tanks. Before we left the crew knew that we were in trouble. People were not happy but being Canadian they did not complain. Flight Attendant said it was her worst experience in her entire career.

  9. Mark Guest

    The flight could have simply made a few toilet stops and be in LA after a few hours of delay. E.g. stop in Iceland, Greenland, New Found land, Chicago for toilet breaks and then land in LA for the final dump

  10. Ricm2a New Member

    Pilot should have turned the plane back after the first warning about the toilets. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. With 340 people on board and an 8 hour flight, there is no way people can wait for the no or one toilet to be available.

  11. Tim Dunn Diamond

    KLM's 2 AMS-JFK flights take just under 8 hours and are operated on 787-10s.
    If they had returned at the first point they considered it, the timing would have been worth it.
    by the time they got to Greenland, they could have made JFK in another hour over the time they ultimately spent. And, because JFK regularly sees their 787-10s, KLM has maintenance support for that aircraft there.

    1. Hammerofguam Member

      Boston even closer!

  12. A_Japanese Gold

    In 2013 JAL 787 flying from Moscow to Tokyo returned to Moscow due to the electric failure which made flushing system in lavatories inoperative. At that time one lavatory was somehow functioning still captain chose to return to Moscow immediately with 151 passengers.

  13. Antonio Guest

    It’s not a great situation but turning back just because the toilets don’t work makes no sense. I suspect majority of passengers would have wished to continue despite the inconvenience.

  14. Mark Guest

    They could have stopped in Iceland and let Americans and Europeans off and then fly the other passengers back to Amsterdam and let them share the single toilet since they are probably few of them anyways.

    1. Icarus Guest

      What a moronic suggestion. KLM has no staff at KEF . So they just abandon passengers there to fend for themselves. There are also no flights from there to LA.

  15. German1 Guest

    I really hope KLM drawn consequences for this particular captain and fired him. Seriously, such a decision is an absolute nightmare for some passengers who rely on access to a bathroom due to whatever reason (medical, cycling,..). This decision could have made some people pee in their pants. Absolute shame for an airline like KLM...

    1. Icarus Guest

      Are you stupid ? It’s rhetorical. People don’t get fired for making decisions like this. Another armchair reader who has no idea how an airline operates.

    2. German1 Guest

      No reason for calling me stupid, just because you don't know how airlines operate.
      Just read the comment and Tweets of Felix, who has been on board. An airline should absolutely not rely on a commander, who is unable to make common-sense decisions because "there is no protocol for it". A commander should and must be able to make decisions even in situations never happened before. This is not an armchair idea - such...

      No reason for calling me stupid, just because you don't know how airlines operate.
      Just read the comment and Tweets of Felix, who has been on board. An airline should absolutely not rely on a commander, who is unable to make common-sense decisions because "there is no protocol for it". A commander should and must be able to make decisions even in situations never happened before. This is not an armchair idea - such decisions can cause the airline serious legal trouble. And actually that's a good thing.

    3. German1 Guest

      No reason for calling me stupid, just because you don't know how airlines operate.
      Just read the comment and Tweets of Felix, who has been on board. An airline should absolutely not rely on a commander, who is unable to make common-sense decisions because "there is no protocol for it". A commander should and must be able to make decisions even in situations never happened before. This is not the idea of an armchair reader, but an important safety issue.

    4. Fordamist LeDearn Guest

      the Captain didn't make the decision! A decision like that was made for him by Management in Amsterdam! Internet, radio ...

    5. German1 Guest

      Oh no, this is an operational safety decision and there is no airline in the world where the commander of the aircraft does not have the last word about it.
      Btw, I can't recall any airline in which such a decision would be discussed with senior management. Of course they can communicate with maintenance about it, but the decision is with the commander..

  16. Hammerofguam Member

    Not sure how Reykjavik would not have been the logical move here. It is in Schengen so no border issues, obviously big enough to accommodate, and 3 hours closer on diversion. If this was a safety issue (biologically), shouldn't getting on the ground be the priority?

    1. Icarus Guest

      It’s easier to return to their Homebase than risk having stranded passengers. And those double Schengen such as Indian nationals would be refused.

    2. Samo Guest

      Those few people not eligible to enter Schengen would have the very same problem in Amsterdam as they'd have in Keflavik. If anything, it would be easier to rebook them from KEF to somewhere in the US.

    3. Ryan Guest

      Disagree. Amsterdam is the hub for KLM. If they have a spare aircraft, they can transfer them to another plane and fly them directly to the destination. But if they divert to Keflavik, the airline not only have to spend additional money on the airport fees, they need to send another aircraft to KEF and then ferry the passengers to their destination, that is doable but what a waste of time and resources and what...

      Disagree. Amsterdam is the hub for KLM. If they have a spare aircraft, they can transfer them to another plane and fly them directly to the destination. But if they divert to Keflavik, the airline not only have to spend additional money on the airport fees, they need to send another aircraft to KEF and then ferry the passengers to their destination, that is doable but what a waste of time and resources and what if the replacement aircraft goes tech? At least at AMS, logistics is more manageable.

    4. Icarus Guest

      No they wouldn’t as they can for example, fly DEL AMS LAX without a Schengen transit visa but cannot fly DEL AMS KEF JFK without one

  17. UncleRonnie Guest

    Many years ago I was on a South African Airways 747 when blue water started running under the door of the cubicle near my exit row seat. A young couple decided to join the “mile-high club” and broke the toilet. FAs were not impressed and the poor young lady in particular was mortified making her way back down the aisle to her seat. The rest of the plane gave them a round of applause.

  18. Engel Member

    Only surprise is that this doesn't happen more often.

  19. Tom Guest

    Assuming 340 passengers, and generously assuming each passenger would spend, on average, only three minutes in the lavatory just once during the entire flight, it would take 17 hours for the entire cabin to answer nature’s call. That’s seven hours longer than the entire flight. Crew should have done that math during the first turnaround.

  20. DC Guy Guest

    I had this happen on a DC-10-30 from AMS to DTW. It was a cascade of failures of all the lavs. As a crew member I know the lavs will shut down automatically when the tanks are full of waste. Bet someone forgot to service the lavs in AMS.

  21. Justin Guest

    By the time they're over Greenland, why not just continue to Boston? Maybe an hour or so longer than returning to AMS. Everyone on board was already flying to the USA, and Delta could've accommodated them in Boston to LA (or wherever they were going). I'd rather be on a plane with 1 toilet for 3 more hours and end up halfway to California than 2 more hours with 1 toilet and end up back where I started...

    1. Trey Guest

      From where the plane was over Greenland as shown on the map, they were about 2600km EB to AMS and 3700km WB to BOS. Factoring in wind, probably a difference of a little over 2-hrs travel time.

  22. Betz Guest

    What a shitty situation.

  23. Kendall Guest

    If this happened on Air India, they would just use the human toilets in the business class seats

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      I shouldn’t have LOLed at this, yet I did.

    2. Srini Rao Guest

      Dont be an ahole. Another racist here. Air India is not the only one with those issues.

    3. Kendall Guest

      https://onemileatatime.com/news/man-urinates-air-india-business-class-passenger/

    4. Manny Guest

      Such a racist comment. Why is this comment not deleted ?

  24. Nick Guest

    The decision to continue the journey when they noticed that only one of the loos was back functional is totally incomprehensible. Maybe they hope that others will slowly come back, but in aviation industry it would be better to expect the worst case than the best case.

    By the way... I didn't know that B78Xs are capable of flying from the Europe to Los Angeles - I thought that the range would be insufficient.

    1. A_Japanese Gold

      Operational range of 78X is about 6400NM while flight distance for AMS-LAX is about 5600NM. So it would be doable. Longest route currently served by 78X seems to be HND-ORD by United (UA882) with the flight distance around 6300NM.

    2. zow Guest

      If I'm not mistaken: TLV-LAX is 6550 NM, 787-10 on LY.

    3. Nick Guest

      Thanks. I believe that United flew EWR-TYO (probably HND) with B78Xs before the Russo-Ukranian war of 2022... I guess United is quite good at flying jets on a flight whose distance is almost as long as the range of that jet - which isn't that common.

    4. A_Japanese Gold

      Argh, I mistook Nautical miles and miles and operational range of 787-10 is 7400 miles while HND-ORD is 6300 miles. HND-EWR is 6700 miles so 787-10 can fly but in these days United deploys 777-200ER or 787-9 on this route.

  25. Luis Galaviz Guest

    I was waiting for you to post about this Ben, I was part of that flight and boy it was hectic

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Mark Guest

The flight could have simply made a few toilet stops and be in LA after a few hours of delay. E.g. stop in Iceland, Greenland, New Found land, Chicago for toilet breaks and then land in LA for the final dump

1
Trey Guest

From where the plane was over Greenland as shown on the map, they were about 2600km EB to AMS and 3700km WB to BOS. Factoring in wind, probably a difference of a little over 2-hrs travel time.

1
Albert Guest

Far too sensible.

1
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